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Meet the Digital You: How Emerging Technologies are Changing Life Sciences

Feature Article | February 14, 2018 by Jacqueline Prause

“Imagine knowing whether your DNA encodes a risk for migraines even before a headache strikes.” The Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine suggests this as just one example for how emerging technologies will transform our perceptions of healthcare in the years to come.

What is driving this change? The disruption of the life sciences industry, which is experiencing unparalleled market and business changes due to breakthrough technologies like connected health, personalized medicine, health wearables, artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, machine learning, and augmented reality.

On a recent episode of the Internet talk radio program Changing the Game in Life Sciences, a special edition series of Coffee Break with Game-Changers, Presented by SAP, a panel of three industry-leading experts discussed how new digital innovations in medical products, data management, and patient care are changing the ways in which the life sciences industry delivers valuable medical solutions – as well as our roles and responsibilities as patients.

Joining moderator Bonnie D. Graham on the panel were: Joe Miles, formerly global vice president of Life Sciences at SAP, now managing director for Life Sciences and Healthcare at Deloitte Consulting; Robert H. Eubanks, principal, Life Sciences MALS Business Unit, at Capgemini; and Hussain Mooraj, partner at Deloitte Consulting.

The following are just some of the observations presented during the one-hour show. For more information, listen to the complete show on demand: How the Digital Economy is Changing Life Sciences.

Patient and medical device information is now being connected through smart technology.

Joe Miles: From both a cost and technology perspective, we now have the ability to leverage a variety of different types of devices and sensors that are really giving us an opportunity to manage our own health in the ways that were never really feasible previously, whether that be with a pacemaker or maybe an insulin pump. It’s really giving individuals the opportunity to take more control of their own health, to be more accountable, more responsible, and in most cases more knowledgeable.

Wearables are becoming more seamless. The ability to track health data is becoming more invisible, for example, by utilizing something ubiquitous as a cell phone. A lot of these devices and sensors – although starting out as an overt device that you would see or you would wear – now are just becoming integrated into your daily routine and it’s somewhat seamless. The simplicity and the ease of access is really driving a lot of value for all involved.

We now have the ability to leverage a variety of different types of devices and sensors that are giving us an opportunity to manage our health in the ways that were never really feasible previously.

Robert Eubanks: Joe brought up a great point around the questions: Do you think people are going to get engaged in this? And how are they going to feel about giving up more of their personal health data? Probably early on there’s going to be some reluctance because there are going to be some very legitimate privacy concerns that people will have. Once we start to understand the power of this, however, people are going to become more comfortable with sharing their information because we’re going to see the improved health outcomes.

For example, someone may come out with a Class II device that’s actually a band and in effect allows you to monitor your glucose 24/7. Think about this with the integration of Siri and artificial intelligence. You wake up in the morning and you ask Siri or Alexa, “How am I doing?” It is going to let you know what your insulin levels look like and maybe make recommendations. It may have access to your calendar and ask if you plan to go out and exercise in the morning. If you say “Yes,” then maybe you need to adjust your nutritional intake that morning or your insulin levels. Likewise, if you’re out and you have location services turned on, and you walk into a Panera Bread, you could ask Siri, “How am I doing?” It will understand where your glucose levels are and then give maybe recommendations on what to have for lunch. Once they realize the health benefits of this, that’s going to be when people start getting more on board with it.

Hussain Mooraj: One of the reasons why healthcare costs have spiraled out of control in the past few decades is that we have been focused on the symptoms rather than prevention. What embedded technologies and remote monitoring capabilities can really allow you to do in healthcare is to move from being reactive towards being proactive: proactive health and prevention. That in itself has massive implications for reducing the overall cost of healthcare, or at least slowing down the pace of increase, but this does not come without its challenges.

Cybersecurity for patient data and medical products is an industry-wide challenge.

Hussain: We can talk about embedded innovation and remote monitoring, but what about the issues that we have to deal with around them, which we never had to consider before, like security, cybersecurity, medical product security, and the ability to hack into these various systems? From an industry perspective, we still haven’t really gotten our heads around these and we still haven’t really put practical solutions in place to prevent them.

Joe: I would agree with Hussain, the cybersecurity element is probably one that’s a little bit newer to the discussion and probably has a lot more dire consequences. What we’ve seen from companies like 23andMe and others is that if people can see value from giving their information and it’s anonymized or aggregated into a group, then there’s a willingness and patience to forgo their privacy for that greater benefit. I would agree though that cybersecurity is really a concern given the bad actors that are out there these days.

Meet the digital you: DNA and genome sequencing opens the way to precision medicine. 

Hussain: We now have the ability to do full genome sequencing. We can take a look at our microbial and the proteo, our metabolome and come up with what we might want to call the “Digital You.” It’s really the true workings of our body and what makes us unique. Because we have this ability to see that we have predispositions, we can then start taking actions very early to ideally mitigate the disease state for me. If it shows that I may have a high level of sugar sensitivity, then obviously I might be a candidate. The idea is at some point I need to start taking early actions to watch my diet and exercise to prevent the onset of diabetes. The ability to be very predictive here or preventative is going to be a big win for our healthcare ecosystem.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have precision medicine, where when we do have diseases, how do we begin to tailor therapies that work on our unique genomic profile? This is going to be one of the big transformations that the life science industry is going to go through the next decade. Right now we develop therapies based on population averages. We develop pills and therapies that ideally we can sell to the broadest population possible. With the information out there and the ability to crunch this information, we’re going to start designing therapies that work on much smaller populations.

That’s going to cause a big transformation within the industry. It also is going to see the emergence of new players for the companies that are very good at managing very large data sets. There will be some interesting challenges as the industry goes through that, but we are right on the cusp of the next decade or two of just incredible changes in the way we think about our health and the way we administer our health.

Changing the Game in Life Sciences

Listen to recorded episodes of Changing the Game in Life Sciences to hear how the digital economy is changing the life sciences industry.

For more up-to-the minute business and technology news, listen to Coffee Break with Game-Changers broadcast live every Wednesday, 8:00 a.m. PT / 11:00 a.m. ETime on the VoiceAmerica Business Channel.

And follow Game-Changers Radio on Twitter at @SAPRadio and #SAPRadio.

The experts’ comments have been edited and condensed for this space.

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